When your Grandfather is More of Rebel than You

I lived in a dorm room for the first two years of college, and I had way too many things to actually fit inside said dorm room, but I was too stubborn to leave anything at home. So most of my childhood bedroom and all of my Pinterest DIY’s came with me. This led to an enormous organizational issue that I’m sure my freshman roommate judged me for, and even though we had to share a room, she was kind enough to pretend that I was not actually a borderline hoarder. All I had to contain my possessions was a desk with three drawers, a dresser also with three drawers, and a wardrobe with two shelves and a small hanging rack.


One evening, I had gone to my grandpa’s house for dinner and we had the following conversation about my predicament:

Grumpy: What do you have to do tonight?

Erika: Well, I gotta go do some homework tonight and clean my room a little bit more. It’s kind of a mess.

G: It’s not very big, don’t take too long.

E: No it shouldn’t, but I have to find places to put things. Because I don’t have a lot of places to put things.

G: Maybe you need some shelves.

E: Well I don’t know where I would put them. I can’t drill into the wall or anything.

G: I can.

E: No, you can’t.

G: Sure I can.

E: But I’d have to pay for that at the end of the year.

G: No, you won’t. Just tell them, “It was here when I come here.” Just tell them you don’t know where it came from.

Flash forward a few days later, and my grandpa arrives at my dorm to measure the wardrobe because he’s going to build me another shelf. He pulls out his measuring tape, takes a few notes, and then is gone almost as soon as he gets there.

A couple more days go by, and he calls me to tell me he’s finished my shelf and he’ll be stopping by to install it. The shelf fits perfectly, but the studs won’t fit into the pre-made holes inside the wardrobe, so my grandpa decides that he’ll just make them bigger. By drilling more holes into the sides of the wardrobe. With the electric drill he just happens to have in his truck. However, the cheap siding on the wardrobe splits immediately and chips off on the inside, exposing the inside of the wood. Undeterred, my grandpa continues drilling until the studs fit snugly inside, my new shelf perched safely inside my wardrobe. He steps back and admires his handiwork.

I, however, see a bill in my future for damages to my dorm room.

Later, I was very grateful for the new shelf, and I just painted over the damage with my art supplies and hoped that my RA would never find out.


Conversations with my Grandpa: Sunday School


My grandpa is one of the most important people in my life. He’s known as Grumpy in my family because he’s one grumpy old man. When you really know him though, you can see that he’s kind and loving and he values his family. When I went to college, I got to live in the same town as my grandpa, and I made regular visits to see him throughout the week. We’d go out for dinner, or I’d go to his house and bake him his favorite cookies, or sometimes he’d show up at my dorm room on the weekends at who-knows-what-time in the morning to show me the latest project he’d been working on. Since I graduated, I haven’t been able to see him as much I’d like (which is partly my own fault).

But I recorded a few of our conversations on my phone to save for later. So I could listen to that gravelly voice full of quiet laughter and years of hard labor and decades of stories, memories, and love.

. . .

We used to have a song when I was in Presbyterian Sunday school called something about “bringing in the sheaves, we will come rejoicing bringing in the sheaves.” I didn’t even know what a sheave was.

I don’t either.

Well it’s a bale of hay. I found out later. At the time I didn’t know what it was. I just knew it was a good idea to bring ‘em in. And then we’d sing “All the Christians” and I liked that one because you got to stomp your feet, march around. Went to the Bonna Bell Presbyterian Sunday school at a little ole wooden building – I don’t think that building was much bigger than this kitchen. Seemed like it was big ‘cause we was little. And it had a big old pot belly stove in there in the winter time, and it had an ole upright piano that was bad out of tune. The old preacher would get up there and he would say, “Ok, everybody turn to page 92 in the song book.”

Somebody would say, “We sang that last week!”

He’d say, “Well, how ‘bout page 94?”

“I don’t know that one!”

“Well how ‘bout page 21?”

Then the piano player would say, “I can’t play that!”

And then we’d argue on what we gonna sing.

Then we’d have Sunday school and everybody’d go out there and get in a fight.

I feel like that’s not what you’re supposed to do in Sunday school.

Well, that’s what we did in the Bonna Bell Presbyterian Sunday school.

Now if the preacher liked you good, they had a big ole bell in the belfry that had a rope coming down. And if he liked you, he’d let you ring the bell. And one day he decided it was my time to ring the bell. I went to ring it, and I couldn’t reach the rope. And I didn’t get to ring the bell. Never did get to ring it. Rope was too short.

We’d meet in the church building there, and we’d sing some songs, and he’d make a little bit of a sermon, and then we’d go outside, sit under the tree and we’d have a Sunday school lesson out there. Sitting under the tree. ‘Cept when it was raining, then we stayed inside.

Sometimes you’d only get told about sin. And you’d start talking about stuff and I figured, well that’s stuff I liked to do! [laughs] And then I was in a dilemma, I didn’t know what to do then.


Existential Crises and Other Joys of a College Senior

[This post was originally written on September 2, 2015.]

I spent this past summer considering my options for the next phase in my life. My college career is quickly coming to a close, and I have to think about where I’ll be living, with whom I’ll be living, how I’ll be saving money, whether or not I want to continue my schooling, what kind of job I want, etc. The list could go on forever, but I’m trying to keep my stress levels low, so I’ll end it there. It’s a real job in and of itself to just sit and think about these things. I’ve requested information from grad schools all across the country and even across the globe. I’ve been asking friends if they’ll need a roommate next year. I’ve been weighing my options, and I’ve come to the conclusion that life is exponentially more difficult and vastly more confusing than I thought it would be. I know everyone goes through it, but no one has managed to articulate just how stressful these kinds of decisions are. Who knew I could feel so helpless and so stressed out at the same time? It honestly feels a little like drowning. And after my first experience with a panic attack, I can confidently say that I want to avoid all unnecessary stressors.

I also spent a lot of time this summer rethinking my choice in major. And with graduation just around the corner, that’s kind of a terrifying thought to have. Do I go back and change my major now? Do I spend two or three more years in undergrad? Do I have the money or means for that? Do I graduate with this Anthropology degree and hope I can get into grad school with something entirely different in mind? How much more work will that be?

With all of these questions whirring around in my brain, it’s a wonder I’m still functioning as a semi-normal human being. (My only explanation is obscene amounts of coffee.)

But the one important question I keep coming back to is: What makes you happy?

I know, I know. Cheesy. But stick with me. This is important. What keeps you up at night out of sheer excitement? How do you like to spend your time? What do you find yourself talking about so often that your friends demand that you shut up already? Are you willing to sacrifice your happiness for a potentially more stable but potentially less satisfying career?

I think the crucial thing is to be aware of what your passions are and to not dismiss them because they’re not the traditional or easy paths to success. I’ve come to realize that the people who truly care about you, the ones who can clearly see what you love to do, never lie. They recognize your potential, and they tell you when what you’re doing is good and worthwhile.

So try not to get overwhelmed by that little voice in your head that whispers, “Hey, you’re going to fail big time. Don’t even bother.” Because you certainly have a say in the matter, and it’s often never as bad as you think. You’ve survived 100% of the tough days in your life so far.

And you will survive so many more.